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   The non-future of XHTML x.x [LONG]

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Some initial responses to my earlier post entitled "What are the arguments 
*for* XHTML 2.0?" seemed to start from the premise that it is a given that 
development of XHTML 2.0 is a good thing. I see no basis for making such an 
assumption without careful and thoughtful analysis.

This post introduces some ideas which suggest, to me at least, that further 
development of XHTML or calling a halt to such further development is an 
issue which merits serious analysis and discussion. This post focusses 
primarily on practical rather than purely technical issues.

I will develop two simple premises:
1. Indefinite continued development of not-charged-for Web browsers is an 
unsustainable business model
2. All technologies reach a point where they have outgrown their usefulness. 
(X)HTML is no exception.

1. The not-charged-for Browser model

To develop any non-trivial piece of software demands developer time and other 
resources. Those resources cost money. A business which invests money only to 
give away its products will soon become a former business. The 
not-charged-for Web browser is, in the general case, not sustainable.

Simon St Laurent supports the continuance of the not-charged-for browser 
model. Yet, OReilly.com does not provide its books or other services free of 
charge nor would I expect it to. If OReilly.com moved to a not-charged-for 
business model I anticipate it would not continue in business for long.

In reality, of course, the not-charged-for Web browser is in many cases being 
subsidised by some charged-for activity. In the case of Mozilla/Netscape I 
understand that a significant proportion of development is by developers who 
draw a salary (or part salary?) from Netscape. So, if that is correct, I as 
an AOL subscriber and many millions of others subsidise the development of 

Similarly Internet Explorer is not "free". A small, but undefined, proportion 
of the cost of a Windows operating system licence provides the income to 
justify Web browser development.

I anticipate that we will soon enter a phase when we have what I term "user 
agent turmoil", by which I mean that we will have many types of user agent 
including "rich clients" competing in similar spaces. Some rich clients which 
are charged for, some poor man's browsers which are free, for example.

Rich clients will, if properly implemented, provide added value for corporate 
and other paying clients. Since the "richness" of these "rich clients" will 
determine much of their success and failure in the marketplace it is 
essential that they can be diffentiated from the not-charged-for poor man's 

That such rich clients will appear shouldn't be surprising. At one time mere 
users had nothing better than dumb terminals on the desktop. Then along came 
applications which ordinary folk had access to. When the Web arrived we had 
"simple" Web browsers - not-quite-dumb terminals if you like. As user needs 
become more sophisticated we will move on to rich clients. I expect this to 
happen since such rich clients will meet user needs which are not met by the 
Web browser.

Of course the not-charged-for Web clients will attempt to keep up or catch 
up. If cross-subsidies continue they may keep up fairly well. But I doubt 
very much if they will keep up fully, since the indefinite continuation of 
such cross-subsidies is doubtful.

But if, hypothetically, AOL/Netscape realise that they can create a rich 
client for which they can charge will they, in a fierce business climate, 
continue to subsidise Mozilla? Would an alert shareholder population allow 
them to?

If, again hypothetically, Opera had similar concerns about shareholder value 
... and both AOL/Netscape and Opera leave ... what price continuance of the 
HTML [sic] Working Group?

User agent turmoil, which I expect to become highly visible over the next 12 
to 24 months, may well result in HTML [sic] Working Group turmoil. Or 

Which W3C WG will wish to be seen to develop the poor man's browser? 

As my signature says, "XHTML 2.0 - the W3C leading the Web to its full 
potential ... to implement yesterday's technology tomorrow". Hardly the 
notion that a forward-looking software business with a viable business model 
would want to be associated with, in my view.

I expect that many rich clients will wish to distinguish themselves from 
yesterday's technology. Exit XHTML?

2. All technologies reach the end of their life-cycle

I am not using DOS version 17.0 nor OS/2 version 7.3. Why? Those once useful 
technologies reached a stage in their life cycle when, considered against 
other options, they were no longer viable for me. In time they became viable 
for nobody. They died.

The same applies to XHTML. The only point of doubt is whether XHTML 1.1, 
XHTML 2.0 or, say, XHTML 932.4 is the last version.

What value does XHTML 1.0 and 1.1 add for HTML users? The consensus in a 
recent discussion on XHTML-L was that the advantages are surprisingly few.

XHTML 1.0 and 1.1, to be fully implemented, need a new generation of browser 
clients. Which companies are going to invest in clients to support these when 
better business cases can perhaps be built on rich clients using alternate 

The same question also applies to XHTML 2.0. If XHTML 2.0 is to be a 
worthwhile investment for W3C to pursue then a good business case needs to be 
made for its continued development.

If such a case exists I am not aware of it being made public. In an 
anticipated era of user agent turmoil XHTML 2.0 may quietly sink without 
trace if it doesn't provide substantive added value for rich clients.

I pause here to allow supporters of development of XHTML 2.0 to put forward 
arguments in its favour.

Andrew Watt
"XHTML 2.0 - the W3C leading the Web to its full potential ... to implement 
yesterday's technology tomorrow"


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